By Owie 59 Comments
In this thread I plan to discuss Owen Reece’s mental state during the Dark Avengers story arc, which culminates in his battle with Sentry.
I plan to show that Reece was heavily mentally and emotionally unstable, full of self-doubt, self-hate, and fear, that this affected his powers at multiple points during the Dark Avengers arc, and that due to this fact, the battle between him and Sentry does not prove which one of them was more powerful, or better at matter manipulation, at that point in time.
Please notice that I am NOT arguing here that Molecule Man was more powerful than Sentry, that’s a whole different subject—that's a completely different subject. I am simply arguing that, due to the effect of Reece’s mental and emotional problems on his powers, the fight itself does not prove which is more powerful, one way or the other.
I am only going to deal with issues leading up to and including the Dark Avengers arc, and won’t discuss the current Incursion/Secret Wars 2015 storyline, in which it is made clear that the background reason for the increase in Reece’s madness and instability over the years is the long-term murdering of Molecule Men from other dimensions.
Please see links for scans.
REECE’S OVERALL MENTAL HISTORY (AND ALSO A HISTORY OF HIS POWERS)
Reece has obviously had a long history of mental and emotional problems. These have included general paranoia, an antisocial tendency, and low self-esteem, all of which led him to become a villain in the first place. However he also created subconscious mental blocks for his powers right from the start.
Original Power Limitations
The most well-known of these is that he used to be limited to only affecting inorganic molecules. However, this limitation was pretty inconsistent in practice. For instance, he was able to affect electricity right from the start (examples 1 and 2), and was also able to affect such things as the Surfer’s Power Cosmic. He created multiple new bodies for himself (examples 1 and 2: in the first example, it says the second guy is his son, but later on we discover he really recreated himself as his own son), which clearly were organic, and also possessed multiple people’s minds—minds that were also obviously organic (a few examples of people he possessed: a girl, a guy, Reed Richards and a snake whose body becomes humanoid after he takes it over). In fact, he even alters the girl's body and turns her mom into a doll. He even turned the Thing into glass, and turned another guy into Mr. Fantastic and stretched him to death. He turned the Thing and the Man-Thing into normal humans. So there were tons of examples of times when he affected organic molecules very directly. Sometimes the writers tried to make up explanations for how he could do this, but they were always pretty lame excuses. And, he also was able to do things that seemingly have nothing to do with matter control, like traveling between dimensions (pages 1 and 2). But regardless of all these examples of him affecting organic matter and energy, the official storyline was that he had subconsciously limited his power to only affect inorganic matter, and this was often repeated in narrative captions, or by Reece himself.
He also, from the start, created a subconscious need for a metal wand, through which he directed his power. This wand wasn’t actually necessary, but he handicapped himself so that he couldn’t use his power without it (and in fact later on, his consciousness became stuck in it for several appearances, as seen in several of the links above).
During this period, there were also multiple occasions where he was unable to affect certain materials. He was unable to affect the Impossible Man directly, which surprised him (although it shouldn’t have, since he supposedly couldn’t affect organic molecules at that time). He was also unable to affect the Invisible Woman’s force field directly. or the FF's uniforms, because they are made of unstable molecules. He wasn't able to possess Man-Thing or Klaw. Most of this is presumably due to the subconscious limits he had put on his powers.
Emotional Healing and Power Increase
After a long time, Tigra persuaded him to see a therapist. This therapist finally got him to tackle his mental and emotional problems, and to give up being a villain.
But, he was sent to Battleworld to be on the villains team by the Beyonder in the first Secret Wars anyway. Eventually, as is well known, Dr. Doom gained the power of the Beyonder, lifted the mental blocks from Reece’s mind, and all his former problems fell like scales from his eyes. He was now the consummate matter manipulator, and since matter can be converted to energy, the consummate energy manipulator as well. However, he clearly had capabilities well beyond that, since he was able to travel interdimensionally, sense the private communications of far-away Abstracts, etc. By Secret Wars II he was really more of a general omnipotent than someone who was just a very powerful matter/energy manipulator. But anyway I digress. The point is, at this point in time he was at his mental best, feeling confident in his relationship with his newfound girlfriend Marsha, and at peace with his role in the universe.
Problems Begin Again
But then he found out his powers came from to the same energy found in a Cosmic Cube, and he merged with the Beyonder to become a Cosmic Cube for a while. When he came back to Earth, he had lost his powers, and with them he had lost his confidence in his relationship with Marsha. He got his powers back, but Marsha left him, and he has been mentally and emotionally troubled ever since. He had used her as a crutch; once she was gone, his previous confidence and happiness were shattered.
He snapped, and turned straight up evil again (page 1 and 2). He found the Beyonder’s mental remnant in the now-sentient-Cosmic-Cube Kosmos, and battled him/her, this time defeating him/her. Together, their power was able to affect distant times, space, and dimensions—clearly he was still pretty powerful even as a Cube derivative. Kubik, another sentient Cube, even said Reece was the most powerful of the Cube brotherhood because of his human nature, since the others were only abstracts and didn’t have the added potential of human emotions (pages 1 and 2). However, this emotional “strength” of his has never really shown up since then—Reece’s human nature has pretty much entirely been a weakness for him since then (until the current Incursion/Secret Wars story). Anyway his evil side went back into his subconscious, and he was just poor, pathetic, emotionally weak Owen Reece again.
His despondency over Marsha has since led him to be able to be controlled by the Puppet Master (!) and to be defeated by Aron the Watcher, who won simply by putting a barrier of pure vacuum a few feet around him so there were no molecules for him to manipulate (despite Reece being more of a reality warper than a matter manipulator at this point—by power if not habit anyway—and also having always been able to manipulate matter at a distance). Weirdly, Reece says he can only affect inorganic molecules during this fight, which hadn't been true for years. He eventually seeks out Doc Samson for more therapy. He was at a very, very low mental and emotional point during all this time. He would randomly act out as if he was evil, or at least uncaring about the results of his actions. He insanely added Marsha’s face to Mount Rushmore. He was actually worse than when Tigra had originally gotten him to see a therapist.
Some time after this, he was captured by SHIELD. To quote his bio: “The Molecule Man was finally imprisoned at the Raft during a period when his mental state had fluctuated enough to make his power level manageable.” He must have been pretty mentally/emotionally incapacitated for it to negatively affect his power level so much, since otherwise it seems ludicrous for SHIELD to be able to imprison a Cosmic Cube being with any level of functionality whatsoever. (But, it sure makes it reasonable to think that Sentry would be able to defeat him soon afterwards.)
Then during the big Raft breakout, he escaped along with numerous other characters, and returned to the town of Dinosaur, Colorado, where he grew up. This is where the Dark Avengers story begins.
Let’s start by just looking at the story. Here are the main scenes with Molecule Man in them. It's not every single page, but it's a good chunk:
Now I’ll break it down, with links to excerpts from the scans above:
Reece has some new "friends"
Reece is in Dinosaur, Colorado. He wants the town to be all his, regressing to an emotionally “safe” space, and rejecting any strangers. He is paranoiacally protective of the town and his solitude, believing that everyone is out to get him. He is controlling the townspeople’s minds, and when any strangers come, he disintegrates them. But, and this is important, HE DOESN’T REALIZE HE IS DOING THIS, as we’ll see later. So right from the start we know that he is not only paranoid and clutching to his birth location essentially in a desire to revert to his childhood, but he is DELUDED—that is, what he thinks is reality is not the same as actual reality. Also, like any paranoid, he is full of fear and severely lacking in confidence: if you think everyone is out to get you, that means you must believe yourself to be supremely vulnerable.
These killings are noticed in the outside world, and Norman Osborn sends Sentry to investigate. Sentry notices the town seems depopulated, and then sees Owen, who disintegrates Sentry—not from any specific ill will, he just doesn’t want any strangers around.
The Avengers attack in full force. Reece makes most of them disappear. Then he teleports Osborn to what seems like another dimension (but turns out to actually be in a barn), where Reece is accompanied by his new “friends”—Mephisto, Beyonder, Enchantress, and Zarathos. These are not the real beings, just copies Reece has made out of his imagination. These “friends” are amazing examples of how far down Reece’s mental and emotional state has plunged. First, as we will see in a minute, they are his ONLY friends now. They are, in their own words, the friends he “deserves.” Again, this shines a pretty harsh light on his confidence and self-image, if he thinks the friends he deserves include characters like a demon of deceit, a goddess of seduction and deceit, and a demon of vengeance. He has gone from a situation where he basically had a two-person version of multiple personality disorder (his normal personality and his bald, “evil” personality) to one where he has even more personalities, each intended to embody a different aspect of his thoughts. The current psychological term for multiple personalities, dissociative personality disorder, is actually even more descriptive than the old term in this instance. He is dissociating his negative and dangerous (including the danger of sexuality, in the case of the Enchantress, since his sexual confidence is very low due to his failed relationship with Marsha) thoughts and emotions from himself, because he can’t deal with the fact that they actually exist within himself, forcing them to embody themselves into other physical selves so that he feels less responsible for these feelings. (But still sees them as the “friends” his degraded self deserves.) This is a prime example of how his personality is completely weak and unable to come to grips with itself, let alone exterior reality. He is completely undermining his potential, and setting limits on what “he” can do (as opposed to what his other “friends” might advise) as a person, as completely as he did when he limited himself to inorganic molecules or the need for a wand.
So already we’ve seen that Owen has a unstable grasp of reality, and an unstable sense of who he is himself. Sounds like he’s in great shape for a fight, right?
It is worth pointing out that Reece seemingly-confidently tells Osborn that he controls all the molecules of the world, and gives some seemingly sophisticated examples of how he can do that. Right after this he even puts Osborn through a psychological gauntlet of hallucinations from his past. However, these examples are honestly not that complicated for Reece (as he himself notes later), and he is just acting confident while feeling scared. He is still massively powerful compared to normal people. The questions that we will be getting to, eventually, is how he fares when he goes up against another truly massive power (like the Sentry’s) as opposed to garden-variety humans like Osborn, and whether his powers even work effectively in normal situations right now (as he thinks they do), or if he is only DELUDED into thinking that they are working well. Spoiler: I am going to argue that he is deluded :)
Anyway, after talking with Osborn, he talks with Enchantress about how he just wants to be left alone. Basically he’s caught in the grip of a desire to return to a sort of fetal state, metaphorically speaking. He says that if he just kills Osborn, others would come after him, and he’d have to kill them, and so on, until eventually Reed Richards would get him. I think this is a really telling moment. This whole scenario of continually killing people is NOT really what he would have to do. All he has to do is psychically control everyone in the world and make them simply not notice what’s going on in Dinosaur—make it a mental blind spot in everyone’s mind. For someone with his power, this should be EASY. It is actually not that different from when Sentry made everyone forget him. Cosmic Cube beings are easily capable of this; consider when a very early Kubik was able to alter the entire Earth and its inhabitants and culture into a new form in such a way that everyone forgot about their old lives. Reece could make everyone ignore him, without killing anyone, easily. But instead, he is so far down the rabbit hole mentally, that he doesn’t see this obvious solution. He retreats into blunt force approaches, despite the subtlety of his powers, deluded into simplicity. He is clearly not at his best on a tactical or strategic basis.
So then he goes ahead and mentally tortures Osborn, as I mentioned. Meanwhile, Sentry reforms. Reece goes to him and notes that Sentry is made of different matter than anything he has experienced before, showing that fighting with Sentry will take a higher level of competency than a fight against a random high-powered being. Reece “kills” him again, this time not simply by disintegrating him, but by blowing his body to bits, actually ripping his limbs and body apart in an explosion before fully disintegrating him. Then he says that they could have been friends, presumably because both Bob Reynolds and Reece are both crazy (as is Osborn; the story makes an intentional comparison among the three of them). This method of destroying Sentry really stands out to me. The Molecule Man doesn’t normally kill people like this—he has transmuted people, he has disintegrated people, but he has never eviscerated someone physically like this. To me it is a further example of how far afield he is from his normal self.
Problems with his Powers
Then we see what he did with all the other Dark Avengers. Some of these examples are also very telling and show that his powers are very much NOT working at their best, or as he would expect them to. If he can’t deal with these essentially normal humans, how could he be expected to be at his best when fighting someone of Sentry’s power?
He tries to turn Daken into a tree. Reece comments on how Daken’s healing factor is fighting back against the transformation. By the end, Daken is transformed as Reece wished. But the idea that Daken’s healing factor could in any way be trouble to someone of Reece’s power, the idea that it could slow down his transformation for even a second, is laughable. Reece is still, in terms of his potential, capable of creating planet-wide physical changes at the minimum. And we’re supposed to believe that one guy’s healing factor could fight back against his power at all? There’s no way. The only explanation of this is that Reece is not in full control of his powers, due to his weak mental state and lack of confidence. He has been attempting to project confidence against, say, Osborn, but clearly the rest of the context shows that that’s just bravado; one does not attempt to live in a metaphorically fetal state, under extreme paranoia of fear and doubt, with a bunch of friends that are dissociated embodiments of one’s own feelings, while being truly self-confident.
Reece then talks about Ares, and how to send these guys back so he won’t be noticed. Again, the fact that he doesn’t see that he can just send them back and make it so no one notices, using his powers, is astounding, and a sign of his inability to think straight. His “friends” Enchantress and Zarathos tell him he should run, and that everyone wants to kill him, again showing that he’s not confident in how to deal with other challengers to his power.
Then we see that he turned Bullseye into a barrel of water, but that water is “angry” and can move. Again, this is a stunning push-back against his powers, like Daken’s. Is it a funny scene? Sure, but there’s no way that a normal human like Bullseye could somehow fight back against Reece’s powers in such a way that he can retain a degree of his emotions while being supposedly inanimate matter. Again, this is a crystal clear example that Reece’s powers are not working at their full extent.
Then Victoria Hand shows up. She wants to surrender so MM won’t cause any more trouble. She wants the Avengers and “all the others” put back, alive. Reece replies, “what others?” She goes on to mention the 44 civilians he’s killed. He has no idea: “44 people,” he says, stunned. She asks, “are they dead?” He doesn’t answer, again he seems to have no idea what she’s talking about. Let me just point out again how insane and mentally incompetent he must be to kill 44 people without even knowing it, how much his power is out of his conscious control, how much he is separated from normal reality (the fact that he made a fake hell should also be a hint of this!). He no longer fully controls his power with his conscious mind—and it is this conscious mind that will later attempt to fight the Sentry. Much of his power is now being controlled by his subconscious, the part of his mind that is always tripping him up and negating his powers and potential.
Then Sentry reforms, again. This time he’s angry, and on the verge of the Void. MM brings Hand to Osborn in the weird fake hell dimension, and Reece explains that he altered Osborn’s mind using a few simple molecular changes (note that they’re simple changes; this is the scale of thing he can still do consciously and effectively). But then Sentry bursts in and pulls them out of the fake hell/barn.
Reece once again violently bursts Sentry asunder (again, in a far more violent and bloody way than he’s ever acted outside of this arc). Reece starts to fight back against SHIELD, but Sentry reforms a final time, and starts to control Reece. Sentry says he needs Reece to put everything back, because Reece has more experience with these matters.
Reece famously says, “How are you doing THIS TO ME?!?! I CONTROL THE MOLECULES! I DO!” In other words, he is . What else would one expect from a fractured mind that doesn’t understand reality or itself, that is in fear and doubt of everything?
Reece does put things back, and Sentry tells him to “go away,” and it looks like Reece explodes in the same way Reece exploded Sentry, but presumably he teleports away somewhere, and eventually shows up again in the Incursion storyline. Sentry then explains that he is also a matter manipulator.
Osborn Sums Things Up
On the last pages, Osborn supports this whole notion of Reece’s mental and emotional state: “You don’t want to end up like Owen Reece, do you? Not knowing what’s real and what’s not? Not having friends.” (Of course, this is the pot calling the kettle black, since Osborn has his own paranoid, delusional, dissociative issues.) He confirms that Reece’s grasp on the outside world was his problem. Not knowing what was real and what was not, constantly drowning in illusionary friends he made, and being unaware of whole aspects of reality that he was subconsciously affecting (like dead visitors), he was incapable of dealing with his powers on any large scale, and even on a small scale in some instances. Daken and Bullseye were both able to resist his powers to different degrees and in different ways; sure, Daken was eventually turned into a tree, and Bullseye was turned into water, but no normal humans should have ever been able to resist his powers in that way, even for a second. He killed 44 people without knowing it. He made imaginary friends for himself without being aware of their origin. And when he was forced into combat with a character whose power level is near his own (whether above or below), he was simply unable to deal with the level of that challenge, due to his severe mental delusions, emotional and cognitive instability, and lack of confidence. Before he came to Dinosaur, he had been imprisoned on the Raft, where his power level was so low, due to his low mental state, that even SHIELD was able to capture him. Since then, his mental state seemingly deteriorated even more—at the very least he is worse off here than he was when he met Doc Samson (which was his last appearance before he went to the Raft), since in that story he wasn’t experiencing delusions and hallucinations on the scale seen here.
A Q&A to clear up a few extra points
Q. Why would his mental state make him weak now, when his most powerful post-Cube state came about during another psychological break (the fight with Kosmos-Beyonder)?
A. While he fought the Kosmos-Beyonder, he wasn’t really emotionally troubled or deluded, he had released a whole secondary personality that took over his body. That is to say, his normal self was emotionally troubled, AND THAT FACT allowed his untroubled evil self to come forth (see the scans of this linked to above). That evil self had no emotional weaknesses; it was his “strong” image of himself, macho (as seen in his muscled form) and very capable. That self was thus able to fully utilize his power and take down the Kosmos-Beyonder. (To quote from that issue, Reece calls that side of himself "a side which knows no restraint or control," and Beyonder calls Reece's normal personality "a weak, sniveling creature afraid to fully use the awesome energies at his command", which makes the comparison between the two, and their ability to use his power, pretty clear.)
His Dark Reign self, on the other hand, still had his normal personality in charge (with various evil selves split off as “devils on his shoulder”), and thus was full of weakness. This unconfident, delusional, meandering, unenthusiastic self had far less capacity and initiative to control his powers effectively than the vindictive, ambitious, self-assured evil personality that fought Kosmos-Beyonder.
Q. Sentry, Osborn, and Reece are all insane here. Why would Reece’s insanity cripple him more than the other two?
A. Sentry and Osborn are basically high-functioning in their insanity. Sentry’s mental weaknesses don’t make him any less effective as a fighter; when pushed to extreme his weaknesses push him to becoming the Void, much as Molecule Man's “evil” side that came out in his fight with Kosmos-Beyonder. The Void and the Molecule Man’s evil bald persona are both beings/personalities that are energized to do whatever it takes to achieve their goals, and have no mental blocks that they put in their own way to stop themselves from achieving those goals. They are more dangerous than their normal selves. Whereas Owen’s normal personality’s mental problems are the opposite; he is always retreating, always causing himself problems. Also, as it happened, the Sentry that MM fought was a very confident Sentry, in the end; a Sentry that had just woken up to the full extent of his powers and found peace in a new sense of self-identity, similar to when Doom first unlocked Reece’s full potential. So this battle was, in its last moments, a very self-doubting, deluded Reece against a fully-confident Sentry. Osborn, as later becomes clear in Siege, eventually loses his ability to function and becomes more like Reece’s self-doubting, disassociated personality when Loki pushes his Goblin self to the forefront.
Propositions that I have shown:
- Reece was delusional, with a poor grasp of reality
- Reece was paranoid
- Reece was unstable
- Reece was full of self-doubt, self-hate, and fear (which are the conditions Doom said lead Reece to undermine his powers), lacking confidence in himself and his actions
- Reece was not tactically competent
- Reece was desirous of a return to an imaginary perfect state of being where there is no conflict
- Reece has had a long history of creating mental blocks on his own power based on his lack of self-confidence and instability, and constant self-undermining
- Reece’s recent mental history affected his powers so much that he was able to be imprisoned by SHIELD
- Reece was unable to use his power at its normal full effectiveness even against two essentially human characters, Daken and Bullseye
- Reece was not utilizing one of his confident alter egos, like the one that fought Kosmos-Beyonder, but his own self-doubt-riddled, always-second-guessing main personality, in the fight against Sentry
- Reece was not in the mental shape necessary for him to combat Sentry, who was in contrast fully confident in his own newfound abilities
Therefore, given that Reece was full of his classically power-hobbling self-doubt, self-hate, and fear, and due to the limitations on his powers shown directly in this story arc, he was almost certainly not in full control of his powers. Thus this fight does not tell us which is innately more powerful, Reece or Sentry.